EXERCISE: Acting Through Awareness, “The Yoga Of Waking Life”.
Ancient tantric practitioners often describe meditators as being “silly” or “wasting time” (Yoga Spandakarika: The Sacred Texts At The Origins Of Tantra*), and for good reason. What is the point of learning how to meditate, just to simply close yourself off from the rest of the world? Life happens, we cannot run from it.
Below are two unique ‘Practices of Presence’ which I have compiled and consolidated over the years after learning its beginnings while travelling in Chiang Mai, Thailand (don’t worry, no spiritual mumbo-jumbo or malas required!):
1) Sit with your eyes open and allow your vision to blur.
2) Inhale slowly for a count of 1-2-3-4-5.
3) Pause for a moment.
4) Exhale slowly for 5-4-3-2-1.
5) Pause for a moment.
**Repeat this process over and over until the exercise requires no mental effort at all, to where your breathing follows the rhythmic pattern of slow inhales and slow exhales — regardless of the exact count.**
When you have gotten this technique down pact, try moving about the room; all while maintaining the same rhythmic breathing pattern. Try cooking, cleaning, or going out for a walk with this technique. It even works (perhaps best) when utilized under stressful situations.
What does this technique do for you? It affords you the ability to clam your nervous system and act with awareness, rather than thought. When sparring or grappling with someone during training, you will often find your heart rate beginning to rise; and, in effect, your mind's chatter. By managing your breathing, you manage your body and your mind; allowing you to gauge more appropriately your next response.
1) Stand at the corner of a room.
2) Inhale, lift your foot up and forward.
3) Exhale, step your foot down.
4) Inhale, lift your other foot up and forward.
5) Exhale, step that foot down.
**Repeat this pattern as you cross the room and do it until it becomes an unconscious process.**
What does this technique do for you? It allows you to give your mind a task while simultaneously synchronizing the body and mind through the breath. By actively linking your body and mind through the breath, the mind relaxes and becomes more preoccupied with what is happening in the moment; rather than dwelling on the past or future. However, don’t stick to just walking for this technique, try synchronizing your body and mind through the breath while swimming, driving, running or (in more advanced cases) grappling!
Why are these techniques so important? The truth is, there will never be a point of complete and total control (some call it “mastery”) over your own impulses against all stimuli (unless you're dead). Life happens, we merely react to it. These two methods simply provide us the opportunity to disengage from our emotions (and, in effect, though processes) long enough to objectively observe a situation and act appropriately. In Zen, it is said that “if I ever meet the Buddha, I will slap him,” what this Zen koan is ultimately trying to teach is that, no matter your level of “mastery” over yourself, you can never account for everything so much so that your baser instincts and knee-jerk reactions aren't engaged. All we can really do in life is disengage, observe, and (most importantly) act appropriately.
Though, it is true that there are various other breath-work practices out there that you can apply to your daily life; however, these are just the two that I have actively applied the most over time… In the end, we must come to realize that our most valuable resource readily available to us is our breath — and we should never take it for granted!